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Learning to Be Papa Daddy

Being a father came pretty naturally. I have loved so many aspects of the role – especially playing, teaching and discovering. When our children began having children, Karen and I asked ourselves the question, “What do we want them to call us?” Grandad is too stiff. Maybe Grandaddy. Borrowing …
By Seth Barnes
By Seth Barnes

Being a father came pretty naturally. I have loved so many aspects of the role – especially playing, teaching and discovering.

When our children began having children, Karen and I asked ourselves the question, “What do we want them to call us?” Grandad is too stiff. Maybe Grandaddy. Borrowing from other languages helped us. We landed on Nona for Karen. But we continued to struggle with names for me until we landed on Papa Daddy.

Somehow Papa Daddy invokes a soft, approachable older man. It’s a name that sounds familiar and safe. It was the name we stuck with and the one that the grandkids now use.

Living out the persona that goes with the name has been more complicated. It works best when I’m taking the grandkids on a walk through the woods or reading them a story or playing airplane with them.

I wear many hats in life. I wear the leader hat a lot. I build enterprises and deploy people. That hat looks so different than the Papa Daddy hat.

The leader hat comes with a truckload of goals and expectations. The accountability that leaders require of their followers can feel harsh. It doesn’t play well with a generation that grew up in dysfunctional families led by absentee fathers.

I try to show my human side to our staff. I try to be interruptible. I try to encourage them.

And sometimes, I surprise them by closing down the office and taking them all to the movies. When I’m with staff on trips, we hang out. They may even see me wearing a Papa Daddy hat.

Recently I was corresponding with a young leader and he made a statement. Maybe it was a challenge. “The version of you that I like that builds the most trust with me and my peers is seeing what I would call “papa Seth who takes us to the movies.

That raises a provocative question. What will serve this young leader and his peers the most? And this is closely followed by another question: Can I become what they need?

What about when they want to be celebrated and they haven’t accomplished anything? What about when they want to shirk responsibility?

The Grandad role is a privileged one. You get there because you’ve lived out the Dad or the Mom role. You don’t get to the skip this step. You get to enjoy your grandkids and leave most of the hard work to the parents. It’s especially sweet when the parents are doing their job. 

But what about when there isn’t that leader? Work has to get done. Expectations have to be met. And when followers don’t follow, there have to be consequences.

Richard Rohr calls this work of boundary-setting and protecting “the sacred no.” If the answer to every question is “yes,” then boundaries are not established – things lose their value.

Historically, the boundary-setting job of answering “no” has been fathering work. We can see what happens when fathers go AWOL in our society at present. A good example is the me too movement – a righteous call for accountability that fathers should have established. 

There is a generation looking for more love and maybe less expectation/accountability. What do we think about that? Perhaps we need to rebalance. Maybe we older people need to think about changing our style.

And that begs the question: Is it possible for leaders to jump from a corporate leader role to a kinder, gentler role? 

I’m going to go with the idea that, yes, it’s possible, and good. But first there need to be a few men (and women) to do the hard work of fathering. Someone needs to make sure that the walls and boundaries that protect the families and the tribe are maintained. Someone needs to do the work of saying “no.”

Now that we have stronger leaders at work, I am hoping that I can respond well to the challenge to become a softer, more cuddly version of myself. I’m not prepared to abandon our high expectations, but I really want to be freed up to be more fun and relational. People need a Papa Daddy in their life. 

Comments (14)

  • Thanks for all the different roles you played in my life Seth! You were there as a challenger to push me to pursue things that scared me and as a loving father praying for the dreams the lord had placed on my heart to come to be. Andrea and I love and miss you and can’t wait to reconnect in the future!

  • When my daughter gave birth, she told me my name would be Papa…that had been her name for my late father-in-law – her favorite grandfather. It was humbling, scary to live up to for my new grandson…and SO COOL!!

    Consider how many hats Jesus wore. Pastor, teacher, confronter, weeping friend, leader…and we have limited insight into what he must have been like in those private moments with just his closest friends…the twelve. He is the model for how to set expectations, demand accountability, empathize, push the boundaries…all those things we look for in our leaders.

    I will say, though, that it is very difficult in this world for a ‘corporate’ (not necessarily just business) leader to re-form his/her relationship with those who have been the recipient of that leadership. I have both seen it and lived it. It is MUCH easier to establish that softer relationship style with those who have never known you as a leader with goals, responsibilities and all that entails.

  • Great blog Seth! I appreciate the humility here without giving up the beautiful and necessary drive that’s within you. It will be fun to watch you build more and more trust than you thought possible over the next months and years.

  • I am learning how challenging it can be to lead. Honestly, I don’t like the authoritative role. I much prefer to be the encouraging and comforting type. I quickly learning that firm direction is also needed to create stability and build team confidence.

  • What a great, timely, fitly spoken word, like apples of gold in settings of silver!
    Meeting one daughter for breakfast and a haircut from her skilled hands, then swinging by another daughters house to mess with my 2 year old Grandson, who by the way, can only partially get “grampa” right. I’m too undeserving of a 2 word title ??.
    So yeah, I’m in the transitioning role of the Dad’s sacred no with expectations and perameters and the gentler relational granddad role. In this fallen post- genesis 3 world, may we all continue to humbly posture ourselves for all the much needed Love and wisdom to nail it !

    • I’ll bet that you are a super Grampa, Matt. It’s good to hear that someone else is struggling as I am with the transition – it can feel lonely at times!

  • I think it’s great you flow between the two because the two energies that helped me most were (1) the people who kicked my butt, and (2) the people who gently but firmly coached through my junk.

    I’ve appreciated both. Like Richard also points out, our generation also expects an inhuman amount of perfection from our fathers. It seems we youngin’s also have to realize, like Tony Robbins says, “If you blame your parents for all the bad things in your life, you’ve got to blame them for all the good things too.” Keep going strong Papa Daddy

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Seth Barnes

I'm motivated to join God in his global reclamation project. He's on the move, setting his sons and daughters free from their places of captivity. And he's partnering with those of us who have been freed to go and free others.

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